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Electric Company Wants Monthly Fee For Solar Users

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the also-working-on-a-candle-penalty dept.

Power 367

7-Vodka writes "Xcel Energy customers who have their own solar panels are worried about a new fee being proposed by the company. A monthly fee to pay for transmission and distribution of energy would be charged to customers who have solar panels, irrespective of their energy use for the month. An Xcel Energy spokesman said the fee is to ensure that regular customers don't subsidize the 'connectivity fees' for the solar panel customers who don't pay when they generate as much as they use. When pressed, the spokesman admitted that nobody actually pays a 'connectivity fee,' yet they wanted to prevent the mooching from occurring in the future (presumably when they hit everyone with such a fee). He also called the absence of a connectivity fee for solar customers a 'double subsidy' because many solar customers receive rebates to install the panels."

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Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (4, Insightful)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908537)

Because I'm not really getting what the hell they mean about how solar panel users are mooching by NOT using the grid's energy. Maybe there's something electrical and complicated going on that I, as a mere mortal, don't understand that some kind EE can explain to me.

Right now all I'm hearing is "Damn them, how dare those freeloaders not buy things from us!"

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908569)

Basically it's an infrastructure fee. While they may not be using the grid's energy, it still costs money to maintain that grid. So the logic is that if they are hooked up to the grid, they should pay a maintenance fee.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908661)

Don't be suckered by the industry PR flacks' language. Many states have laws requiring them to pay people who _generate_ electricity. It is bad enough that want it for free, now they want to get paid for it, too. People generating their own power help reduce power line transmission problems and reduce peak-load problems. It is just about greed, nothing else.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (5, Insightful)

volxdragon (1297215) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908761)

The energy companies only have to pay if a persons generation exceeds consumption and as such they start pushing energy back into the grid (IE, spin the meter backwards). It seems perfectly reasonable to assess a fee if you are still hooked up to the grid, someone has to pay for the maintenance of the grid and connection to your house and if you are getting paid for pushing energy back in to the grid, you too are using the grid, only as a provider, not a consumer. Even if you aren't actively pushing energy back into the grid, you still have the option of pulling energy from the grid (say, on cloudy days or at night if you don't have sufficient battery capacity). Either way, you're using it and should help pay for the maintenance of it.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (4, Insightful)

GuyverDH (232921) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908907)

They've already paid that - it's called a connection fee...

They're also already getting charged more for the power they do use, since their usage is lower, they get onto a higher cost per KWH rate.

It's more than double dipping if they try to charge more, and too damned bad if their connection fee didn't cover future (I'm not using much of your power anymore).

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908967)

I call bullshit (no offense :) )

Back in the 70s when per house power consumption was considerably less the grid was still paid for by power sales and/or a charge everyone paid. In rural areas where the cost of the infrastructure on a per house basis is much higher the infrastructure is still paid for the same ways.

Now, per house energy consumption is at an all time high and only increasing and if you effectively use less power you are expected to subsidize the infrastructure for those who use more? If you push power into the grid at a cost less than the power company could generate it for and which they will turn around and sell at the going rate which will mean a greater profit than from their own power generation, you have to subsidize their infrastructure?

I call bullshit. A flat infrastructure charge to everyone or this is nothing more than an attempt to tax your own power generation. The money they lose is due to free market forces (cheap solar availability) and the money they gain is from the cheaper power available to them. Any charge for infrastructure should be equal to everyone OR scaled to the infrastructure costs of the area, which would mean higher costs for rural areas.

Are the power companies the next RIAA? Better methods exist so we'll charge you to use them since we won't make money on it?

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (0)

Mikachu (972457) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908975)

I thought infrastructure support was supposed to be the job of tax dollars? And we would have to pay them even if we weren't connected to an energy grid.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909051)

Here in NJ, the electric company only pays you for the electricity you put into the grid, but charges you for both electricity AND delivery when you take it off the grid. So If your average consumption equals your solar production, you still end up paying. I would hardly call this mooching - especially when delivery charges are nearly as much as usage charges.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (4, Informative)

Jimithing DMB (29796) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908949)

Actually no, it's about simple accounting for resources. It costs money to maintain the electric grid. There are two basic costs involved for you to receive power: 1) Cost of generating the power, 2) cost of transmitting that power. Ordinarily when you buy power from the power company they roll these together and charge you per kWh.

When you have your own on-site generation you have 3 basic states of use: 1) Using some amount of power from the grid, 2) using zero power from the grid, 3) putting power back into the grid. For state 1 and 2 you are simply charged for electricity as per usual. It's state 3 that's problematic.

The problem is that many people naively expect to get paid the same rate for energy they put back into the grid as energy they took from the grid. But the rate they paid to take energy from the grid was generation plus transmission. If the rate they are paid to put energy back into the grid is the same rate, e.g. "running the meter backwards" then they are effectively being paid for stealing.

The ideal fix for this is to have two meters. One for inbound power usage and one for outbound power supply. The customer would then have to pay for inbound usage at the normal rate and would be paid for supplying power at a reduced rate. That is, they would be paid for generation of the power but would not be paid for transmission of it because they did not themselves pay for transmission.

In lieu of this, the power company has found it easier to simply charge a connection fee to pay for this transmission. It looks bad to someone who is ignorant of the mechanics of power transmission and it doesn't seem particularly fair because it's apparently a flat fee that will be charged based on how much the company estimates the customer is using the grid to transmit power.

That said it is still more fair than what they are doing now which seems to be paying the customers who put power back into the grid for not only the generation, which they did provide, but also for the transmission, which they did not. The money has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is the companies bottom line. So the company will eventually petition to have the electricity rates raised to cover this cost which means that everybody else will have to pay more because some people think its cool that their meter actually runs backwards.

It's really not that difficult to understand. The problem here is that the reporter didn't check her facts or use logic or reason. Instead it's a he-said he-said story between the underdogs and the big bad evil corporation. She mentions in the article that she pressed the power company spokesman and got him to admit that "currently, no Xcel electric customers pay extra to fund solar connectivity fees. In reality, Xcel absorbs those fees." Then she goes on to say that "The money from the proposed fee would not go into the pockets of electric customers, but would go back to Xcel." This is true but no where near the whole story. Xcel has a fiduciary responsibility to account for resources used. Right now Xcel's resources are being used without payment and actually worse than that Xcel is actually paying someone else to use their resources. That is an untenable situation which can only be resolved by charging someone for it. This can be done by either correctly charging the customers who use these resources or, if this fails, by raising the rates for everyone. There are no other options. But Christin did not bother to point out the obvious here.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (4, Informative)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908679)

My electricity bill has a daily standing charge + a charge for each unit of electricity I use. I thought that was a pretty common arrangement, and the standing charge covers the cost of grid maintenance, and the unit charge covers the cost of generating electricity.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908711)

I was wondering something, somebody please help me out with this. Every time I go to the grocery store or a shopping mall I see this and I wonder.

Does "FIRE LANE - NO PARKING" translate to "NIGGERS PARK HERE" in Ebonics? If so, it would explain a lot of otherwise hard to understand behavior. See, black people do a lot of shit like this that no one else would think of doing, and then you're some kind of horrible person if you notice. That's just not fair.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (-1, Offtopic)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908717)

WTF does this have to do with electricity bills?

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908805)

Please don't feed the trolls.

So they're increasing the daily standing charge (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909083)

My electricity bill has a daily standing charge + a charge for each unit of electricity I use. I thought that was a pretty common arrangement

Some energy companies have lower daily standing charges and higher charges per megajoule. As far as I can tell from the article, the fee described is just an increase to the daily standing charge to cover the cost of engineering the grid to work with more customers who tie their solar panels to the grid.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (4, Interesting)

HeLLFiRe1151 (743468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908577)

The logic is that even if the customer isn't using the power from the electric company, they will still be using the companies lines when the meter runs backwards. With that logic, why should the power company be able to use land for their poles and such without compensation to the who don't use their electricity?

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908729)

Typically the way it works now is that you pay a small fee to the electric company for their services in keeping track of the electricity that you use and what you sell to them. I think it's usually something like $5.

Assuming that one is in a part of the country which requires companies to buy the electricity back they first credit you for the power you provide against the power you use when the sun is down and then they're supposed to bill/credit you for any differences. Those transactions already include any costs from transmission and distribution and such.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (4, Insightful)

Pretzalzz (577309) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908583)

In essence the solar users give power to the grid during the day and then take different power back at night for a net usage of zero or minus. If the grid didn't exist they wouldn't have power at night since they aren't designed to store significant amounts of power. If a transformer blows the power company still has to fix it even though there isn't really a 'paying' customer. Of course night time power is cheaper than day time power but the solar user probably isn't being fully compensated so even without the fee the electric company is still coming out ahead, but are just being greedy.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (4, Insightful)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908691)

Surely the price you sell the electricity to the grid for is less than the price you pay to buy it back, and this margin should cover this maintenance charge?

If you are selling more units of electricity than you buy back, and as a result you don't pay anything, then the electric company is getting free electricity off you which they can sell to someone else to cover the cost.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (3, Insightful)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908759)

Additionally if this became a real problem you'd see two rates, a night rate and a day rate. Then the day rate would be dirt cheap and the night rate would be wicked expensive.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908801)

It depends on how you are credited with the meter spinning backward. In FL you get credited for the fuel charge rate only per kWh, but the fuel charge only makes up around 1/2 the bill. The other half is an energy charge, so even though you may not be using any from the grid, you don't get that cost credited. E.g. you have to give them twice the power you actually use to get near to the almost mythical zero power bill, excluding any recurring fees they may hit you with such has being hooked up regardless of whether you use power. All power is at the same rate, we don't get cheaper rates at night. Other countries simply give you 1:1, and a check in the post should you be in credit in the billing cycle. Not so in FL.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (3, Informative)

kramer (19951) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908969)

Not really. The standard electric meter runs forward when you're buying electricity, backwards when you're selling electricity. With a standard meter, the company can only tell your net energy use. If you use 100 kilowatts, and put back 95 kilowatts, all they see is 5 kilowatts. There's no record of when each kilowatt was used, or anything like that.

This assumes a standard mechanical electric meter, which is what is in something like 95% of residential homes. Digital meters can keep track of when you use, and meter at different rates, but for the most part they're only used by larger commercial power users.

Further, several states forbid the electric company to buy from consumers at a lower rate than they sell to consumers.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908593)

Solar power users use the grid as an energy storage device. Sunny day ? push power in the grid. Cloudy ? draw power from the grid. average used energy: 0. Bill from energy company: 0 . -> no income to maintain the grid. That is why you need a monthly fee, just for being connected to the grid.

The size of that fee, and whether it should apply to only solar power users or everyone is another matter.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (1)

denominateur (194939) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908719)

Unfortunately I can't check this but your logic is correct only if the unit price charged by the electricity company is the same as that which they return to the customer in the case where the customer produced more electricity than they used.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (2, Insightful)

tarpitcod (822436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908601)

It's TANSTAAFL basically. There's a cost to the power company for providing connectivity to a solar users house. It costs them money to run the power lines, and to have the workforce that can service those lines. It costs them money to have capacity available for that Solar user on a cloudy day.

If users generate more power than they use and feed power back intot he grid - then the power company should pay for it. If they do pay for it - it should defray the cost for that connection.

A fair system would be an itemized bill that covers all the components of the system. Distribution and line-upkeep are real costs. Just because someone sticks a pile of Solar in their backyard / roof / ranch doesn't mean that magically the power lines running to the house become free.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908747)

Apart from itemization, that stuff is already dealt with. At least in states which require power company buy backs. The cost of that distribution and equipment is already factored into the price of electricity. The fee is strictly for the meter service since it requires equipment and resources not normally required.

Re:Can someone explain this guy's logic to me (1)

tarpitcod (822436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908903)

There should be a standard posted for such a meter, and the consumer should have a choice of different places to get it from, and a list of qualified people to install it.

The power company can then come and inspect the installation - but there shouldn't be anything other than the equvalent of the one-time cost a consumer has when they upgrade the service to their old house from 75 amp to 200 amp service.

I'm wondering what happens if they have a net of too many generators versus consumers. Ie more power generated than is demanded.

Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908775)

Xcel's point here is that it costs money to create and maintain a power distribution grid. That cost is in addition to generating power. And a solar customer, pushing excess onto the grid for personal profit is using the grid without paying for the grid.

Customers who do not generate their own power pay for power. The fee bundles generation and distribution into one per kilowatt hour fee.

If you generate your own power and take your house off the grid, you would not need to pay Xcel. So, if you don't like paying grid fees...disconnect completely. Otherwise, pay for the grid.

I'll pay their fee... (1)

webdog314 (960286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908835)

But I'm going to want them to come out and fix the panels when there's a problem.

Perhaps they could forgo the fee if I generate more than I use annually by a certain amount? After all, I'm building THEM free infrastructure and helping them meet their government required percentage of clean energy.

Is it really that bad? (2, Interesting)

YahoKa (577942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908559)

I am not sure we can/should speculate on this without more details. Of course the energy company wants to ensure its revenues, but this may not be unreasonable. Even if you have solar, you're (probably) still connected to the grid. It's a huge convenience to you to use just a bit of energy when you really need it - but what if you only use $5 worth of electricity at a low cost? The billing probably process probably costs a nice percentage of your total bill! Is it really unreasonable to pay for a connectivity fee? I don't think it is necessarily...

Similar logic (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908561)

You just spent $80 at the grocery store.

I happen to sell mail-order cheesecakes. Since I didn't get any of your grocery money, I am therefore billing you for $15. Pay up now.

Re:Similar logic (4, Insightful)

GoRK (10018) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909001)

In your analogy, please don't forget that you'd also be obligated to buy my leftover groceries. However, since you don't know how much I might send back, you have to pay to mail me a big box every week, which I may or may not return.

Connection fees are pretty common (5, Informative)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908563)

Many electric providers charge a base "connection" fee to all customers to cover the costs of maintaining the connection, billing, etc. Power is charged on top of that. Nothing in the article says it will only be charged to customers with solar panels, so I assume this is just following what other providers already do.

Re:Connection fees are pretty common (3, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908841)

Many electric providers charge a base "connection" fee to all customers to cover the costs of maintaining the connection, billing, etc.

I'd be surprised if all providers didn't already do that. Every utility bill I receive has a base charge on it.

What you're missing is that the article doesn't say if Denver residents are already paying a base fee or not. If they are, this is a special added fee just for solar households. It's a poor article. I wouldn't try to draw many conclusions from the lack of facts available.

Re:Connection fees are pretty common (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908987)

In Colorado, Xcel already charges a $7/month fee to be hooked to the grid. So even if your solar panels generate more electricity than you use, your bill isn't $0. You still pay the $7 fee.

The rebates the Xcel spokesman is talking about are paid by Xcel, in exchange for 20 years of carbon credits Xcel uses to comply with carbon emission reduction requirements.

Not completely outrageous (4, Interesting)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908575)

Your natural gas company charges you a monthly connection fee, even in the summer when you don't use it. Just 'cause you're not burning gas, they still have to maintain the pipes.

Your ISP charges you a monthly fee for your Internet link regardless of whether you transmit any packets. They have to maintain their infrastructure on the expectation that you can use it at any time. That costs them money whether you use it or not.

Singling out solar customers and only making them pay a fee seems unfair and if it isn't illegal it should be. But simply saying, hey: there's a minimum monthly fee for an electrical hookup whether you use it or not doesn't strike me as out of line.

Re:Not completely outrageous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908639)

Hmmmmm. Isn't the right-of-way that the power companies exercise to build their grid a public subsidy?

Re:Not completely outrageous (2, Interesting)

andymadigan (792996) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908885)

Technically, yes, it's a subsidy. Power companies (generally) don't make a ton of profit, they're regulated to keep costs down.

This is a zero sum game, there is a certain cost to maintain the lines, the money has to come from somewhere. If you don't want to pay, then don't connect to the system.

Yes, at the moment, the power company can sell your excess power, and overall you might end up being profitable to them without paying a cent.

But imagine if everyone had their own solar. They would still likely be dependent on the grid for power at certain times, and they would need it to transmit their excess power. The amount of power they took from the grid would have nothing to do with the cost to the power company, you're better of with a "network" fee + a tiny amount per kilowatt consumed.

Re:Not completely outrageous (2, Insightful)

Raleel (30913) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908663)

I can agree with this logic. I do wonder when they will start charging a "feed your extra power back into the grid" fee will begin and any number of other fees that might arise out of this.

Yes it is. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908689)

That fee is already built-in to every power bill you've ever paid. In fact, it's built into taxes too, with the government subsidizing the construction of power lines and plants and infrastructure all over the country. This is an extra fee for solar users, because the power company doesn't think they're already paying enough.

This is like being told by your ISP that you're not actually using your connection, so they're going to charge extra fees for you to maintain it, even though it costs them a lot less money. That is plainly outrageous.

Re:Not completely outrageous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908697)

We used to have an outdoor grill on the natural gas network.

Re:Not completely outrageous (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908715)

What a load of bull. My gas company charged us 1.5k to put in a new line from the street and then charged us for each meter (4) installed. The pipe from the street to the house comes out of our pocket. The line in the street was paid for by the government. When one of my tenants turns off their service they pay no fees. We looked into having a new line run to our property as the current electric is against city code, and we were told we'd have to pay several k to have a new line strung along the property line. We are talking 60' of wire here. $2500.

This is why utilities water, gas, electric, fire, police, medicine etc should be publically owned. A public utility can be run not for profit, and doesn't screw the customer when the infrastructure build with public funds requires regular maintenance.

Re:Not completely outrageous (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908743)

But they're already charging that fee.
The FAQ for xcel's own solar rebate program is here [xcelenergy.com] , read question 3.

Re:Not completely outrageous (1)

ColonelBobo (934213) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908833)

Concerning the natural gas monthly connection fee during summer months, unless you have an electric water heater what do you think is being used to heat the water tank to provide you with hot water? I have to question why Xcel is choosing to charge the fee only for users who install solar panels after April 2010? To make it completely fair it should be applied to all subscribers. From TFA, if any surplus electricity is directed back to the system to be used by other subscribers, I wonder they're getting reimbursed for this?

tax tax (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908587)

this sounds like a government program

Tax people for using resources to the point they stop using the resources
Tax people for not using resources

Positive externalities are UNACCEPABLE! (4, Funny)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908597)

"Sir, we've learned that the government is PAYING our customers to get these solar panels, and then we have to pay them for the electricity that is generated. Some may actually see a net profit from this. We even get cheaper electricity out of the deal, without having to pay for the equipment."

"What? What?! No - absolutely not - we cannot allow this to continue unchallenged. Why, if everybody did that, then what would we be?"

"Well, sir, we'd be the company that provides power when the sun isn't providing it. We wouldn't have to pay for power we aren't using from them. We could even start reselling expensive solar equipment and batteries."

"Oh, so it wouldn't have to absolutely destroy us... oh, but damn, the shareholders!"

"The shareholders?"

"Yes, they'll go apeshit if they learn we aren't maximizing profits. Damnit, we'll have to do something to convince the shareholders that we're not letting an opportunity for shortterm profit fall away. I know - start charging a ridiculous fee for connecting, then using these solar systems, then they'll be another companies problem."

"Customers willing to provide cheap electricity are a problem?"

"No, shareholder expectations about making money from them are a problem. Losing customers for 'overzealous' charges we can explain, but losing profit margins from existing customers we get a shitstorm for. Commence the charges!"


Ryan Fenton

Capacity factor and those externalities (3, Interesting)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908791)

I used to be sympathetic to the mindset of all of the people using Ramsey Notation to express their frustration at the power company trying to tack fees on to solar energy users. After the recent financial crisis, I have changed my sympathies to the crabby power company people, but for an indirect reason.

All loans and mortgages involve some degree of risk. Homeowner loses their job, simply gets tired of making house payments, etc, etc. Risk, however, can be mitigated by pooling -- the principle behind insurance. If we pool a whole bunch of mortgages together, the risk kind of average out, doesn't it? One homeowner may lose their job, but they are not going to all lose their jobs at the same time, right? Yeah, one house gets the roof blown off in a windstorm, but the roof's are not going to blow off all the houses? For a Midwestern tornado, maybe an OK assumption, for Hurricane Katrina, maybe not so much.

That is how we got into the Financial Crisis. It wasn't so much that any one loan was higher risk than any other, but they all got bundled into some kind of traded mortgage bonds where everyone thought, "hey, they can't all default all at once." A recent discussion of this matter mentioned that the key factor was the Pearson r-coefficient of all of those mortgages, and no one doing the bundling or buying the bundled mortgages had a clue.

Wind and solar have a "capacity factor", a kind of risk that they cannot be relied upon to supply electricity when called upon. I used to think that one could "pool the risk", interconnect all of these wind generators and solar panels into the grid and average out the fluctuation. For wind power, I am pretty sure that the capacity factor is highly correlated and hence wind is almost worthlessly unreliable. For solar, I need to see some more data.

The thing is that wind is highly variable, and the variability can be correlated over continental land masses within the reach of any grid, and that wind can just quit for weeks at a time (summer doldrums, if you will). One of the things often suggested is "try it out and get real-world experience." Well, wind is being tried in a major way in Europe, and the capacity factors in practice are proving to be well below original predictions and projections.

Now solar could be another thing, especially in the desert Southwest. Maybe the availability of solar electricity correlates nicely with A/C demand, but I would need to see some data on this, and I imagine the A/C peak lags the sunshine peak on account of thermal lag, and maybe some of this could be compensated with some kind of "smart grid" where people are encourage to run their A/C more at noon instead of waiting till late afternoon and early evening when the heat finally filters through the walls.

The electric power companies never did like solar and wind interconnects, especially from residential users, and maybe they have solid reasons for not liking them, apart from utility executives being Blue Meanies with sharp teeth where most people have their stomachs. Maybe a homeowner with a wind or solar setup is producing much less in the way of usable green power than they think and is increasing the use of expensive natural gas in less-than-efficient peaking plants. We are geeks, here, and we can come up with some reasonable back-of-the-envelope estimates of these effects, instead of lapsing into, "Oh the humanity, those EVIL power companies!!"

Re:Capacity factor and those externalities (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908937)

Now solar could be another thing,

Yes, your rant about wind is a different thing than being discussed here. Also, the cheapest way of generating electricity is a coal pland for "base" power (power at the least demand), or maybe a little more based on natural gas cost. And then use NG for peak. Peak is almost always in the middle of the day (well, late afternoon, anyway) so if anything, a well set up utility will see direct savings in NG costs. The reason you use coal for the base draw is that you can't turn it up and down fast. But NG is almost instantaneous. And NG + wind works great. So we'd see a transition to NG savings, but not coal savings to reduce fossil fuels burned with absolutely no effect on reliability of the grid.

Of course, I was basing the statements on what's most commonly done. There are places where coal is burning significantly more than the base load and the extra generated at night does things like pump water uphill. Then, at peak times, the water is drained and used to generate hydro on demand. And there is talk of turbines and other storage batteries for this extra power in order to smooth out the issues you discuss or make use of the inexpensiveness of coal.

Re:Capacity factor and those externalities (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908943)

Securitization did not cause the financial crisis, the sudden deflation of a huge asset price bubble caused the financial crisis. Securitization concentrated some of the consequences of that event.

(For instance, the bonds that Fannie and Freddie wrote 20 years ago are just fine, as they are secured by mortgages against houses that have, by now, very low loan to value ratios (like 30%)

Chlorophyll (1)

cardsinhand (1601329) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908603)

I'm going to start charging plants for using solar energy as well.

Re:Chlorophyll (3, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908683)

Are you going to disconnect the sun if they refuse to pay you?

What about their subsidies? (4, Insightful)

dedmorris (1137577) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908607)

What about the monopoly Xcel has to distribute electricity. That's one hell of a subsidy. Oh, what about the free right of ways across the solar panel owner's property. Maybe the home owners should be permitted to charge for allowing a utility pole on their lawn.

Re:What about their subsidies? (1)

maharb (1534501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908709)

Ask to have it removed. Your logic makes no sense. That is like saying I should charge the builder to build on my property after I commissioned him to build there. Power is a service that people WANT. Having power lines going to your house is desirable.

Re:What about their subsidies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909019)

In australia, at least in my home state, no power company wants to run 50 poles from the main line to *one* person's house.

therefore you are required to provide these poles yourself.

The poles must meet some defined standard defined by the provider. This means the 'easiest' option is to buy the poles from them, which as it turns out is quite expensive.

it's not really a scam, if it didn't work like that no one in rural australia would be connected to power, it's just not feasible to provide them.

Simple, sue the company back for unauthorised usag (1)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908619)

What owners of solar panels should do is to join hands and bite back the company by filing a suit for "unauthorized" use of power generated by them.
In short, argue in court that the large corporate is stealing their power using its "tubes" that connect the home to the company.

Parasites... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908621)

Do you really want or need a mega corp between you and your commute or Sunday drive?

Work to break the energy dependencies, eliminate the parasitic middle men, at all costs.

This is an example of their creeping control over disruptive technologies and they will not stop.

Liquid bio or otherwise fuel keeps them in control of your transportation and its costs.

Work to create and use pure electric systems that charge at home.

When will I get my monthly fee (1)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908623)

For all the oxygen I've processed into carbon dioxide?

Re:When will I get my monthly fee (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908787)

Just as soon as Al Gore can convince enough idiots in power that it's a great idea.

Re:When will I get my monthly fee (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28909069)

It's right there on your paycheck, under the term: FICA.

You must pay for protection, err, for connection (1)

moon3 (1530265) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908625)

You pay something for being connected. They rolled the cable to your door, so now you must pay for their efforts.

This is classic tactics also employed by local land line gov. owned Telcos here for using their land line. I do not use land line phone for example at all, but must pay for the wall socket otherwise they will cut the cable leading to my house or something. Nobody really cared until people started to cancel the wired connection contracts.

Solar panels are peak power generators (4, Insightful)

Brian Stretch (5304) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908629)

Solar panels produce their highest output when demand is highest, namely on sunny summer days when everyone has their air conditioning cranked up. That's VERY expensive power. Keeping the power company from needing to fire up their peak power generators (versus relying on base load) and helping to prevent brownouts is worth serious $$$. Solar panel output is lowest when cheap base load power is plentiful. In management-speak this is called "synergy".

The PHB's at Xcel Energy need a whack with a cluestick. Nickel and diming people who are giving you expensive peak power for the price of base load is petty at best.

Re:Solar panels are peak power generators (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908665)

These people are not giving power, they're selling power. Stop acting like the solar owner is a victim. He's making money and he's using the power companies infrastructure to do it.

Christ, why are some Slashdot users so lunkheaded about these concepts?

Re:Solar panels are peak power generators (-1, Troll)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908803)

Well Mr. Troll, if you had bothered to read the entire sentence you tried write a provoking answer to and then attempted to write a provocative answer you wouldn't have failed as hard since anyone with even a basic grasp of the english language wouldn't read a simple idiomatic expression like "...giving you... ...for the price of..." in the overly literal and cut off way you're pretending to read it.


Re:Solar panels are peak power generators (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908847)

this is actually somewhat uninformed. Residential peaks are typically not at system peak times. Also, the variability of solar means utilities don't save much because they cannot depend on that generation being there.

Besides, all if this is just groundwork for a future billing system independent of usage.

Re:Solar panels are peak power generators (2, Informative)

webdog314 (960286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908911)

Uh, actually the parent is right, at least for SoCal. We get brown-out notices on the hottest, brightest days when people crank up the AC. The rest of the year, we're fine. Can't speak for the whole country though.

Re:Solar panels are peak power generators (1)

texas neuron (710330) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908981)

The peak power requirement goes beyond the time the sun shines by a few hours. Therefore, the user base is paying for having the same amount of power available but using it for less hours. This saves fuel cost but not construction cost. The cost for peak MWH goes up as solar panels come online. This is different from concentrated solar plants that have the ability to store some heat and produce for a few hours after the sun goes down.

So then go off the grid completely. (3, Insightful)

Cheerio Boy (82178) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908631)

If they want to charge a connection fee then so be it. The gas company and other utilities often charge those so there's a track record of that and I doubt you'll be able to fight the lawyers and politicians they own without a lot of trouble.

The money you would spend to fight them could be better used to move yourself off the grid so you don't have to pay them. Anything. Ever.

But that's a lifestyle change too so I doubt enough people in the US are going to be motivated enough to do that.

Note - I live in the US and am reducing my usage until I can find a way to get off the grid. You can do it even in a suburban home if you plan well enough.

Re:So then go off the grid completely. (2, Funny)

Norsefire (1494323) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908669)

You can do it even in a suburban home if you plan well enough.

And own a lot of hamsters.

Re:So then go off the grid completely. (1)

tarpitcod (822436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908703)

Hamsters Pfft!

You just need to tap some power from your ford nucleon in the garage.

Re:So then go off the grid completely. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908701)

My connection fee is $10 a month. No way can I get off the grid for $120 a year.

Re:So then go off the grid completely. (1)

Cheerio Boy (82178) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908763)

My connection fee is $10 a month. No way can I get off the grid for $120 a year.

That's a good point too. But if the connection fee is only $10 then shouldn't that already be subsidized by the power generated during peak periods that a PV grid-tie system produces for the electric company?

You can bet that the electric companies are not going to keep this fee small either. It's in their interest to keep a monopoly on power generation so they'll likely make an annoying enough fee to keep people from immediately putting up grid-tie systems then lobby to make it illegal for anyone but the power company to attach to the grid among other things.

And if you don't pay them the monthly fee then you don't get connected.

It's all about greed.

Re:So then go off the grid completely. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908863)

It's barely about greed, power companies are among the most highly regulated businesses in the U.S. (My power company has to get approval from a public commission to change their rates).

The size and structure of the fee matters a great deal when deciding how much sense it makes, and until I actually face a situation where my (currently non-existent) grid-tie system is punitively expensive to keep attached to the grid, I have trouble getting real worked up about it.

Re:So then go off the grid completely. (1)

Cheerio Boy (82178) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908897)

It's barely about greed, power companies are among the most highly regulated businesses in the U.S. (My power company has to get approval from a public commission to change their rates).

The size and structure of the fee matters a great deal when deciding how much sense it makes, and until I actually face a situation where my (currently non-existent) grid-tie system is punitively expensive to keep attached to the grid, I have trouble getting real worked up about it.

Except that as people have already pointed out they are _already_ paying a connection fee on their bill. (I just checked my ComEd bill and it's right there in plain sight.)

As for the power companies being regulated - you don't think that they can't buy the government regulators off?

The whole point of this is that if you give them their $10 then next year they'll raise it to $20. Then $30, then $40, etc. Eventually they'll price it high enough that it won't be worthwhile to generate your own power.

Which is their whole point.

Re:So then go off the grid completely. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909091)

Xcel customers do not currently have any connection fee (they 'absorb' the connection costs by building them into the kw-h rate).

I have Consumers Energy in Michigan, they only moved to the split bill recently, I think it is party a product of deregulation that led to their divestiture of the transmission grid (a separate company is now responsible for the maintenance of the power lines). Both companies are still highly regulated, and even though photovoltaic doesn't make economic sense here, I doubt that they would be allowed to get away with the spiraling fees that you are conjuring.

subject here (2, Insightful)

medelliadegray (705137) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908633)

It's called a line connection fee. EVERYONE already pays this. There is no reason that solar CONTRIBUTORS should have to be charged to help the power companies, if anything excel should have to pay them. Think about it, power, they dont have to maintain, service, or otherwise pay to implement, comes into their grid magically.

These guys just want to remain a near monopoly on power generation, so they want to create barriers of entry. People who propose stuff like this should be flogged, or worse.

Re:subject here (1)

Slippy. (42536) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908867)

The least the company can do is provide a good reason, and a real justification, for the fee. All the decent potential justification I see is written by slashdot commenters, not the company. Bad sign.

I'd buy it as a line free or an infrastructure fee, if they were splitting the bill. But this is an additional fee, and the the PR wording of what *should* be a simple statement raises all sorts of alarm bells, in my opinion.

The PR flack states the company absorbs the cost already. In normal-speak, they have a single fee covering delivery and power. So splitting out the delivery cost should NOT be an 'extra' fee, and *should* be very easy to explain.

Instead of a simple explanation, it gets worse. Initially the fee is only a penalty fee for not using enough electricity from the company.

... some solar customers who used a sufficient amount of electrical energy each month would never have to pay the connectivity fee.

And to be clear, the company is making a profit reselling the solar generated electricity, in additional to the peak use benefits. It rings of greed and an excuse to slip in another fee.

flaw in reasoning. (1)

itzdandy (183397) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908635)

The major flaw in this reasoning is that it is absolutely illegal (though IMNAL so I cant quote specific laws) for a company to charge a consumer for purchasing a product from another company or creating a product themselves. The power company is a utility and has no right whatsoever to inspect the property of customers and charge fees accordingly.

This kind of announcement can only hurt a regular company. I wonder why a utility thinks they are above it?

Im 100% sure that the first person that gets charged this fee who has any money or balls will sue the power company for a cool mil.

Rediculous. G.O. would roll in his grave if he found out that 1984 was a mild version of the future.

Re:flaw in reasoning. (2, Funny)

Norsefire (1494323) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908685)

G.O. would roll in his grave if he found out that 1984 was a mild version of the future.

Didn't you hear? Xcel dug him up, wrapped in wire and are generating electricity by how fast he's spinning.

Easy (3, Interesting)

nightfire-unique (253895) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908643)

This one's easy. Split the bill into two portions: transmission, and generation.

Line usage gets billed per day, and generation, per kWh. The line usage fees cover the maintenance of the power lines and are charged whether or not you use (or contribute) any power. The generation fees can range from negative (if you offer a net surplus) to positive (if you use more than you contribute).

Re:Easy (1)

Minimalist360 (1258970) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908827)

We have this in NJ.

Re:Easy (1)

Orne (144925) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908939)

Exactly. And that's exactly what is happening here.

Let me put it this way, currently an end-use customer is getting billed transmission (the correct term at this level is "distribution") charges on the net energy consumed.

In theory, a house without solar panels is only consuming, therefore the net consumption is the gross consumption and the transmission component (which was already baked in the bill) would compensate the distribution company for transmission of energy into the house. More importantly, this net energy use is read once a month, and doesn't split production/consumption.

But, a house with solar panels would net to (near) zero, as the energy produced during the day offsets the energy consumed at night. The net is zero, but the gross energy in/out most certainly isn't. The distribution company must still maintain the lines that allows the house to sell its energy back to the grid, as well as deliver energy to be consumed at night, but the distribution company is no longer being compensated by houses with solar, unless there's a rate structure change.

Now, the rate structure change is here as the new proposed fee.

Unfortunately, the article mis-states that houses with solar "use no electricity in a given month". They net no energy usage in a given month, but clearly push and pull many electrons into the grid, thus the need for maintenence distribution maintenence, and the resulting charge.

The only way a house with solar should get out of this fee is if they were off the grid entirely, or were able to form a municipal cooperate where multiple houses could net their power/storage and not need the connection to the eastern interconnection.

Parasites (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908671)

Do you really want or need a mega corp between you and your commute or Sunday drive?

Say no to liquid fuel thay can control; say yes to pure electric, charge at home.

Otherwise the control creep of these parasites will overtake any new technology and turn it into more of the same.

re: the net into television.

I live in North Dakota == Excel (1)

jarrettwold2002 (601633) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908735)

I'll give a call to my local rep's on Monday and sort this out.

Old news, this is already common practice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908739)

Pacific Gas and Electric already charges a connectivity fee to solar panel users. We had solar panels in my last home. We paid about $5 per month for a connectivity fee; this covered the benefit we received using PG&E's electricity during periods where our panels were not supplying 100% of our energy. At the end of the year, we also paid a "true-up" fee, covering power that we used in excess of what we fed back into the system. This came to about $120 per year (in addition to the $5/month), less than half of which was for the actual electricity, the balance consisting of other miscellaneous fees and wandering damage. You can drop your electrical fees to $0 by producing more than you use, but you are still liable for the other payments; PG&E does not have to, nor do they, pay for your surplus.

If your surplus is high enough and you have batteries that are large enough, you can go off the grid and avoid paying PG&E altogether. This is a much more expensive proposition than paying the connectivity fees and using PG&E as your battery, but it is an option available if you have a lot of money and don't like connectivity fees.

Oh hell (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908741)

just get a big power switch to connect from your property to the pole and tell teh power company if they want your extra electricity, then they will have to pay you for it.

Re:Oh hell (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908989)

A battery bank and management equipment that can provide service equivalent to an electric line is going to run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

That'll pay for quite a lot of connectivity fees.

Re:Oh hell (1)

Orne (144925) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909067)

You have mistakenly assumed that they want your power.

The rate case that the public utility commision and the distribution company agree to compensates the distribution company for the transmission costs to deliver power to your house. If you end up using less electricity, then the existing built lines are under-utilized, which means less need to upgrade, which is less future revenue for the distribution company.

Load of BS (1)

headhot (137860) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908751)

Tell me mr energy company shill, where do the people with solar panels get there energy at night?

Thats right the connection to the grid, and they are pay you for the electricity.

huh? (1)

jipn4 (1367823) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908753)

How are they even going to know?

Don't most people already pay such a fee? (2, Interesting)

Ark42 (522144) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908755)

Looking at my most recent bill, I think I pay $10.68 even if I use 0 KWH, so I already pay such a "connection fee" with Consumers Energy in Michigan.
System Access Charge - 6.00
Delivery Surcharges - 4.68

Re:Don't most people already pay such a fee? (1)

Spamalope (91802) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909039)

I did a quick search for someone in Denver talking about their xcel bill. It look like they already have 8 fees on the bill in addition to the cost of the power! Denver slashdotters - has xcel just been adding a new fee to your bill every year, and this is just the current years scam to do it again?

Others posted above there are no extra fees, but I'm looking at the electricity part of my xcel bill, and can't even find the rate for actual usage; itemized amounts on the bill include:

Residential General (I'm guessing that's the usage amount, by process of elimination)
Air Quality improvement
Trans cost Adj
Elec Commodity Adj
Demand Side Mgmt Cost
Purch Cap Cost Adj
Renew. Energy Std Adj
Franchise Fee
Sales Tax?

Reminds me of recycling (1)

RJFerret (1279530) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908771)

When I was a kid, I collected newspapers to recycle from the neighbors. We brought them to a recycling plant and got paid by weight. This makes sense, I provided labor, raw materials and transported them, they paid for them and turned them into a product.

Nowadays, ironically by law, we collect, clean, sort and partially transport recyclables and have to pay for doing much of the work for them.

This sounds similar.

If *I* invest in the infrastructure, I provide lower cost energy, I maintain the equipment, I bear the cost of insuring it, I'm sure as hell not going to pay YOU to connect to me and use my energy. I have the better mousetrap, you beat a path to my door.

Re:Reminds me of recycling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908993)

For the same reason I don't buy women drinks in bars. In fact, I don't by my own drinks either. They can buy me drinks.

Of course, I'm single, so I'm not sure that strategy is the most productive...

this fee is the price of the insurance (2, Insightful)

at10u8 (179705) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908785)

There are some solar users with battery banks large enough to ride all the way through a typical night, but very few solar users with enough battery to last through a week of storms. In this case the power company's infrastructure is acting as insurance, and a fee like this is the price for that insurance.

... complete ... (1)

akuma624 (690011) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908793)

horse shit

hrmph (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908823)

And these same companies will refund the money to the government spent to subsidize connecting rural people to the grid?

These fuckers want to have the cake and eat it to. I say we cram it up the ass, tie 'em to chairs and kick 'em down the stairs.

who is subsidizing who? (1)

sugarmotor (621907) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908849)

Sounds fishy ... Presumably the connectivity cost goes both ways? Meaning the solar panel customer has a cost too, that they would like the electrical company to contribute to?


Translation: (2, Interesting)

kheldan (1460303) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908871)

"We're not making enough of a profit, therefore we're going to start making up fees so we do. Thanks for the idea, air travel industry!"
I call shenanigans on them for this. By all means, let's start making solar power for individual property owners less attractive! Let's punish them for being green and smart and trying to save themselves some money! Yeah, that'll sure incentivize them to invest $20,000 or more for solar panel installation!
Stupid bastards. Can't wait until someone steps in and tells them "NO!".

Net Metering (3, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908961)

It appears, from another article, that Xcel wants to charge a fee based on the power generation capacity of a customer's solar panels. This seems totally unreasonable, except for one thing -- net metering. Net metering means Xcel essentially buys the customer's power at _retail_. So Xcel has to eat part of the transmission and distribution costs for the customer electricity. Net metering is required by federal law, so they can't just not do it. This seems to be an attempt to find a way around it.

Xcel already charges a flat fee to all customers (in addition to metered charges); this is on top of that.

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_12914520?source=rss [denverpost.com]

Rebates are good! Wait, no, they're bad... (2, Interesting)

SeaDuck79 (851025) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909003)

Power companies have, for decades, been advocating energy conservation, through rebates, in part because it's less expensive for them to do that than to build new power plants.

Now a power company is saying that the rebates THEY offer to prevent construction THEY don't want is only desirable up to the point...where they can't make as much money off of it? Is the objective to reduce power grid usage, or to maximize revenue? Sounds like they are reaching that decision point. Thoughts?

Xcel = PLEASE READ (3, Funny)

kulakovich (580584) | more than 5 years ago | (#28909013)

Because I know you have a rep reading this.

I AM GLAD you are doing this. Because now you open up the dialogue in which we discuss what I am going to CHARGE YOU per kilowatt hour that I GENERATE.



ps - we're unregulated so I'll just put something out there after you say yes.
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